Nigeria: VAR now a necessity in Premier League?

Officiating in Nigeria’s national leagues has become one of the issues affecting the development of football in Nigeria, with several instances of poor refereeing attributed to match officials. Perhaps the problem of bad refereeing in the NPFL would have been minimal if the VAR system had been in place.

The 2022/2023 Nigeria Professional Football League season, which has reached its fourth week of matches, has already started to feel the heat of poor refereeing, as three match officials have been suspended for poor refereeing. The video of the goal scored by the Niger Tornadoes against defending champions Rivers United in Port Harcourt, which was eventually disallowed by central referee Faro Abdulrahman in week three, went viral, with critics calling for the head of the referee and everyone insisted it was a goal.

Perhaps if the VAR were present, a consultation would have been made to justify the referee’s decision or make him reconsider his decision. But in the absence of the video, fan voices have been raised and the referee now faces disciplinary action as at the time of this report.

Why was VAR introduced by FIFA?

In essence, football’s world governing body FIFA, which introduced the video assistant referee (VAR) to football in 2016, wants to reduce the focus on referees and limit the impact controversial decisions would have on the outcome of a match . With the introduction of video, FIFA agrees that humans (referees) could make errors of judgement. But with the help of the VAR system, they could reverse their decision and make a different decision than the first one, which could free them from the error and still be in the best interests of the game.

VAR and football in Africa

Since its introduction, VAR has made its presence in three national leagues of African countries, namely Morocco, South Africa and Egypt, while African giants Nigeria are conspicuously absent from the list of VAR system countries.

A Ghana Football Association publication two years ago titled Process For Implementation of VAR Begins, stated the Ghana FA’s readiness to implement the VAR process in their domestic league and the publication further added that FIFA states that “within the next three years, the VAR must go to all member associations and then all member associations must start accepting this concept and making it part of our football.”

Furthermore, continental football’s governing body CAF followed suit, introducing the VAR system to continental tournaments. VAR was used for the first time in the Africa Cup of Nations in the quarter-finals of the Egypt 2019 edition. Subsequently, all AFCON 2021 matches hosted by Cameroon had VAR, confirming that the system has come to stay in African football.

Why is the VAR not in Nigeria?

The lack of VAR in the Nigerian national league is still a concern for many. In 2022, when the NFF had a budget of N1,256,758,296 from the Ministry of Sports, it was used for overheads and capital projects. Apart from the grant obtained from the Ministry of Sport, the NFF has always obtained funds from FIFA, CAF and private partners, but there is no evidence that there is a VAR scheme in any of these funds.

Efforts to obtain the views of Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) president Ibrahim Gusau have not been successful as he has yet to respond to messages sent to him, although he is confirmed to have read them. However, installing a VAR system in a stadium is estimated to cost US$6.2 million (approximately N2.9 billion), which leaves the Nigerian Federation in a search situation of approximately N30 billion naira if 10 VAR systems must be installed in 10 stages.

The VAR would certainly lend credibility to the NPFL if installed, and the interim management committee which has until the end of the shortened 2022/2023 season needs to make a conscious effort to include the VAR system in their recommendations before passing the baton to allow the NFF to critically review issues affecting VARs and begin planning accordingly.

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